Monday, November 6, 2017

Twelve Slays of Christmas (A Christmas Tree Farm Mystery)

Author:  Jacqueline Frost
Genre:  Mystery/Christmas

Hardcover; Audio CD; Digital Book; Audiobook
ISBN #:  9781683313175; 9781538452141
Crooked Lane Books (Blackstone Publishing Audio)
309 Pages
$19.75; $69.00; $9.99 Amazon
October 10, 2017


When Holly White's fiancé cancels their Christmas Eve wedding with less than two weeks to go, Holly heads home with a broken heart.  Lucky for her, home in historic Mistletoe, Maine is magical during Christmastime -- exactly what the doctor prescribed.  Except her plan to drown her troubles in peppermints and Snickerdoodles is upended when local grouch and president of the Mistletoe Historical Society Margaret Fenwick is bludgeoned and left in the sleigh display at Reindeer Games, Holly's family tree farm.

When the murder weapon is revealed as one of the wooden stakes used to identify trees on the farm, Sheriff Evan Grey turns to Holly's father, Bud, and the Reindeer Games staff.  And it doesn't help that Bud and the reindeer keeper were each seen arguing with Margaret just before her death.  But Holly knows her father and is determined to exonerate him.  The jingle bells are ringing, the clock is ticking, and if Holly doesn't watch out, she'll end up on Santa's naughty list.


Holly White has just returned home to Mistletoe, Maine - she's miserable because her fiancé jilted her in favor of a yoga instructor.  Still, she's not there to lick her wounds and feel sorry for herself.  It's Christmastime, and her parents own Reindeer Games, a tree farm.  They're doing what they've done for years:  During the twelve days of Christmas, they have games and surprises for locals and tourists alike.  Everyone is gearing up for the holiday, and Holly pitches in to help.

But there's a different surprise in store:  Margaret Fenwick, a member of the local Historical Society, has been a thorn in everyone's side for years.  But this year, it's gotten worse.  She's issuing citations anywhere she can, and to everyone she can.  She's even telling Holly's father Bud that he needs to remove fencing that he just erected.  It appears to Holly that everyone is angry with her for one reason or another, and some are fighting back.  But one is fighting back more than the others.  While taking a walk with her friend Cookie, she finds Margaret's body in one of the farm's sleighs.

When the sheriff is called in to investigate, Holly sees that he's new to the area.  Sheriff Grey is young, handsome, and possibly thinks someone at the farm killed Margaret.  At any rate, he's shut the farm down to investigate, and Holly knows that without the money this time of year brings in, her parents livelihood will suffer.  So she decides to do a little investigating on her own - just to give the sheriff a different suspect, of course; someone not connected with her family.

When the sheriff finds out what she's doing, he warns her to leave it alone.  But he's not the only one.  Someone else knows what Holly's doing, and begins warning her away too - but in a much more sinister fashion.  Now Holly realizes that there's a very real danger, and it's her own life at stake.  If a killer is found soon, she won't have to worry about Christmas, because she won't be around to enjoy it...

This is the first book in a new series, and although the author has written several books under another name, this is her first under this pseudonym.  It's rare that a new series has such a promising start.  I'm not saying that new series aren't good; of course they are; I'm merely saying that many times the author still has to find their way and hone the characters.

Not so with this book.  I found the dialogue witty, engaging and amusing.  The banter between Holly and Evan was always engaging, and quite fun to read.  Two people who were after the same thing, but in very different ways.  And oh, what a delight to read.  He was never nasty or mean; she was never pushy or invasive.

Holly is a joy of a character.  She never became obnoxious in her questioning; it never seemed to me that she was overly invasive to other characters.  Quite refreshing, actually, from other protagonists who practically accuse everyone else of the crime in order to save someone they care about.  Holly never seemed to go that route, and I appreciated that fact.

The characters are well-defined, credible and three-dimensional.  You feel as if you really get to know them; these are not cardboard characters.  While we don't really get to know the town of Mistletoe (because most of the action takes place at the farm) we do have fun learning about all the activities her family has planned for the holiday.  It makes one wish to be a part of it and in a way, we are.

When we get closer to discovering the identity of the killer, it was a surprise.  The reason was believable, and I loved the ending.  To say any more would be giving too much away; you will have to read the book to find out why.  This is definitely a very good beginning to a new series and I hope the next one isn't too far in the future.  Highly recommended.


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